You Are HOW You Eat

A breakdown at any stage of digestion process can affect oral health

Dr. Michael J. GoldbergBy Dr. Michael, Goldberg, D.M.D.

If you are a person with diabetes, you are hopefully already watching what you eat.  What about HOW you eat?

We are complex beings and we're built (or evolved) for efficiency.  We're not sharks and we're not meant to swallow our food whole like birds.

Your mouth is the entry point of your digestive system.  Sounds simple and obvious, but when was the last time your diabetes educator or physician asked you about the health of your mouth?  If they have, you've found a special healthcare professional who appreciates the importance oral health has on overall wellness and specifically diabetes.

Your mouth is a complex system of tissues, muscles, glands, fluids, blood vessels, nerves, and, of course, teeth.  All these have to work in concert to start the digestive process and move food down the road to the next part of the digestive system, your throat and esophagus.

Any imbalance in the mouth can affect how your food is being processed. The fluids and bacteria in our mouths are hugely important in this process.  Mechanically, our teeth should break up food sufficiently, allowing the stomach and intestines to do theirs jobs effectively. We have specially designed teeth to process different foods. Front teeth to tear and back ones (molars) to grind. Both are important. Some think that when foods are sent down to the stomach without this initial process, the result can be reflux, heartburn, irritable bowels, and "leaky gut syndrome."

Another important factor in this digestive process involves the fluids of your mouth, or saliva. Saliva contains enzymes (and many other components) that actually begin breaking down foods, especially fats. It also acts as a lubricant that makes swallowing easier.

Dry mouth is a condition known as Xerostomia and is common in people with diabetes. Anyone who suffers from dry mouth knows the problems involved.  They include:
1.  Discomfort from dryness or burning.
2.  Difficulty swallowing or hoarseness.
3.  Increased risk of decay, gum disease and yeast infections.
4.  Bad breath (halitosis).

Any of these problems can affect your ability to process and digest food, something that is important for everyone and SUPER important for anyone with diabetes.

Here are some suggestions to help.
1.  Keep your mouth as healthy as possible.
2.  Consider more frequent visits to the dentist.  Listen to the preventative suggestions your dentist and hygienist give you.  Make sure you tell them about your dry mouth condition.  
3.  Stimulate saliva by chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless candies (preferably those containing Xylitol).
4.  Keep your sinuses healthy and clear to discourage breathing through your mouth (speak to an ENT doctor for help).
5.  Drink lots of water.
6.  Use a special toothpaste or mouthwash such as Biotene or Oasis.
7.  Limit the use of alcohol-containing mouthwash (and other alcohol as well).
8.  Cut out caffeine and, of course, smoking.
9.  Try using an artificial saliva substitute. There are some you can easily carry in your pocket or purse.
10.  Avoid medications such as antihistamines and decongestants that dry out your mouth.
11.  Use a humidifier at night.

Next, we'll talk about the other parts of your mouth and how they effect your digestion.

To your health and wellness,

Dr. Goldberg loves helping people and is here to answer your questions about diabetes and your mouth.  Just submit your Dental Issues questions for the doctor to Ask an Expert or email him at:

Dr. Michael J Goldberg is the former Director of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital's General Practice Residency Program and a principal in Manhattan Dental Health. He is the author of "What The Tooth Fairy Didn't Tell You" (Barber, Cosby).

Read Dr. Michael Goldberg's bio.

Read more of Dr. Goldberg's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.

Last Modified Date: December 04, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
Years before I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, The Other Half came out of a doctor's appointment with a diagnosis of "borderline diabetes" and an ADA exchange diet sheet. His health insurance agency followed up on the diagnosis with a glucometer and test strips. After a year or so of trying to follow the diet plan and test his glucose levels, things appeared to be back in "normal" range, and stood there until a couple of years after my own diagnosis. Shortly...
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